City ready to revamp waterfront

Officials want to restrict certain businesses in order to create a more relaxed environment.

Published February 4, 2007

PORT RICHEY - Where River Gulf Road meets U.S. 19, a broken minivan sits in front of a carburetor shop. A street with no sidewalk winds toward a welding shop. A loud buzzing noise from the shop cuts through the air.

The Crab Shack, a popular waterfront restaurant, is the main attraction.

But in a few years, City Manager Jerry Calhoun envisions a prime waterfront area bustling with visitors walking from antique shops to restaurants.

To transform the 30-acre area east of U.S. 19 into an appealing destination, city officials are launching an ambitious effort to limit the kinds of businesses allowed and create a consistent architectural look.

City Council's first step would be placing a one-year moratorium on building in the area while city officials draft a plan, officially called a waterfront overlay district.

They would decide on a theme for the area. They would hold meetings to get public opinion on the district. And they would create strict building requirements that would limit development in the district to businesses like hotels, restaurants and coffee shops.

"Do we want this to have a Mediterranean look or Key West?" Calhoun said. "Those are things you can set up when you do districts like that. You go to a developer and say, 'These are our guidelines, adhere to this.'"

Calhoun also hopes to build a walkway along the Pithlachascotee River under U.S. 19 to create a pedestrian-friendly environment, turning the waterfront into the heart of the city.

Calhoun doesn't have a cost for creating the plan, but city officials plan to use the city's architect, who is on retainer.

Officials are considering whether to pattern their efforts after the waterfront district on the west side of U.S. 19.

They created the west side district in 2002. The area is anchored by popular draws like Catches Waterfront Grille and Hooters. But it didn't become the appealing destination city officials hoped for.

City officials had big plans for the area, but never picked an architectural theme or built the parking garage they had planned.

As they turn their efforts to the waterfront on the east side of U.S. 19, officials must decide what to do with existing businesses that don't fit the leisurely, pedestrian-friendly vision for the area.

The west side district gave business owners a two-year deadline to move or face fines. But city officials didn't end up fining anyone because the businesses there were already in line with the district's plan.

Building official Ed Winch said in some cases, businesses like auto shops become attractive to developers who want to turn them into money makers like coffee shops or restaurants.

But Jeff Lawson has no plans to move.

His welding shop, Gulfview Enterprises, off a dead end on River Gulf Road, has been operating for 29 years in the proposed east side waterfront district.

"Beautification is great, but what am I supposed to do, make this an antique shop?" he said. "They need to draw up specifics and give us a plan and hear our voices, too."

But others say the district would be beneficial.

"We think it would spruce up this area down here," said Debbie Corriere, bar manager at the Crab Shack.

"I think it's a great idea to get other businesses involved because it would draw people and increase foot traffic."

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at 727 869-6229 or cspencer@sptimes.com.